Pragmatist Prandelli must narrow down Italy World Cup picks
Cesare Prandelli has a deserved reputation as a shamelessly pragmatic coach. It is hard, however, to argue with his chopping and changing philosophy, but Coral only make his Italy side 25/1 shots to win the World Cup this summer.
Tournaments, in particular, are about the quality of the squads available to coaches. Reacting to different opposition by changing personnel has certainly helped the Azzurri reach the business end of recent competitions – they were finalists at Euro 2012 and reached the semis of the Confederations Cup last summer.
On both occasions, however, Italy were beaten by the same opposition, Spain. That nation’s success has been built on players fitting into a system, but there will be no such approach from Prandelli.
That is why the Azzurri boss took the unusual step of announcing a 42-man roster (that’s almost twice the side of the final squad of 23 he can take to Brazil) for athletic assessment back in April.
It might be easier to state who wasn’t called up to be medically examined in Florence – a trio of veteran front men in Antonio Di Natale (Udinese), Verona journeyman Luca Toni and Roma icon Francesco Totti.
Gallorossi teammate and strike partner Mattia Destro was also omitted, although that was on punishment grounds following a violent conduct charge. All those named have plied their trade in Serie A this season, leaving Italy internationals playing around Europe out, but five such players should definitely be included.
Chief among those will be PSG trio Salvatore Sirigu, as backup to skipper and number one Gianluigi Buffon; holding midfielder Thiago Motta and young playmaker Marco Verratti, who is being groomed as a long-term replacement for Andrea Pirlo.
The versatility of left-sided defender Domenico Criscito (Zenit St Petersburg) and Sunderland’s Emanuele Giaccherini – used in no fewer than three positions by Prandelli at the Confederations Cup – will also appeal.
Former West Ham attacker Alessandro Diamnati must be a doubt for the final squad, however, because he has gone out to China and plays for Guangzhou Evergrande. There are a number of other names competing for an advanced midfield berth that he favours, so Prandelli can easily pick someone who is playing in a stronger league.
If those sent to Florence for assessment are anything to go by, the third-choice keeper is wide open. Genoa’s uncapped Mattia Perin was included in the last squad back in March, and fellow youngsters Simone Scuffet (Udinese) and Francesco Bardi (Livorno) are in with a shout.
Should Prandelli want a more experienced option, then Antonio Mirante (Parma) would fit the bill nicely. Federico Marchetti (Lazio) may have been ditched, despite earning 11 caps.
In defence, Juventus trio Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini will be key to keeping opposing attackers out. Used as a back three by Antonio Conte, they have been the bedrock of the Old Lady’s three straight Serie A titles.
Cagliari centre back Davide Astori should go as backup, but Argentine-born Gabriel Paletta (Parma), Andrea Ranocchia (Inter Milan) and Angelo Ogbonna (Juventus) could all be included.
Napoli right wing back Christian Maggio is a doubt, however, after needing surgery on his lungs. AC Milan pair Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio are more than capable of deputising as attacking outlets.
Manuel Pasqual (Fiorentina) and Lorenzo De Silvestri (Sampdoria) could also provide cover for the full back berths. In midfield, Azzurri mainstays like Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Riccardo Montolivo (AC Milan) and Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina) should all be selected alongside Motta and Verratti.
That will be supplemented by more versatile players like Giaccherini, Alessandro Florenzi (Roma) and Antonio Candreva (Lazio). Outsiders Andrea Poli (AC Milan), Marco Parolo (Parma) and Giacomo Bonaventura (Atalanta) have their work cut out for them to make it in.
Prandelli also had a whole host of uncapped players assessed, but realistically it will take major injuries for anyone else to break onto his final roster. Candreva, Florenzi and Giaccherini are all genuine wide options for Italy, and that is something the current coach is keen on having.
We, thus, may also see the likes of Alessio Cerci (Torino) and Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli) included. Up front, Prandelli has to decide on the right blend of youth, experience and enigmas.
Mario Balotelli (33/1 to be leading marksman) will surely go as first-choice striker, despite more antics and controversy in what has been a difficult season at Milan, because he was top scorer for Italy in qualifying with five. Genoa’s Alberto Gilardino (66/1), meanwhile, is an older option Prandelli has clearly been keen on.
Destro and the unfortunately named Ciro Immobile (Torino) should be in with a shout of going – especially the latter, who is top of Serie A’s scoring charts this term. Prandelli has a big call to make over Fiorentina favourite and former Manchester United frontman Giuseppe Rossi.
Injuries have wrecked his career, but his latest comeback came off the bench in the Coppa Italia final loss to Napoli. How fit Rossi would be, if taken to the World Cup finals, remains to be seen. A similar decision needs to be made about Milan’s Stephan El Shaarawy.
Antonio Cassano (Parma) is targeting a last hurrah, but has been a divisive presence in the past. Pablo Daniel Osvaldo (on loan from Southampton at Juventus) netted four en route to Brazil, so will expect to be included.
Italy, who are four-time World Cup winners, are the 13/8 favourites to top Group D, which also contains England, Uruguay and Costa Rica. They are odds-on to make the last 16 at 4/9 too.
The Azzurri look good value at 11/4 to reach the quarter-finals and be knocked out there – potentially by hosts Brazil or holders Spain again.